Book Review: Who needs Photoshop? Hone your skills by shooting everything “In Camera”


posted Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 4:30 PM EDT


By the time I was serious about getting into the world of photography, the "digital revolution" was going full-steam. My first "real camera" was a Nikon D80, and based on what I read online and from other photographer friends, I was firmly swayed to shoot in RAW mode and then explore the world of photo editing software. This has been the norm for me ever since.

What's your typical digital photography workflow? For me, and I bet for many of you experienced photographers out there, it's something like this: set camera to RAW (I mean, it should be set to that already, right?); take photos; return home to computer; remove memory card; import RAW files into photo editing software of choice; tweak files to heart's content; and finally, save, export and publish (or print) a few select images.

Boy, that's a lot of steps. I don't know about you, but for me, this workflow also puts a lot of the emphasis on the post-production side of the photography process. Lots of tweaking exposure, pulling back highlights, lifting shadows and applying sharpening, plus, depending on the type of photography, perhaps a lot of time spent cloning, healing or doing other digital manipulation.

But what if digital photography didn't require you to work that way? What if you could focus purely on capturing photographs? Right then and there. What if you could just do everything in-camera, without relying further on complex and often expensive photo editing software? What if you could discover that your camera is already capable of producing high quality photographs without any additional editing, even in tricky shooting scenarios?

Well, that's the goal of a new photography book, In Camera, penned by fellow camera-reviewer Gordon Laing, founder of Camera Labs. His new hardback photo book is set up as an inspirational and instructional "photography cookbook," if you will, that explores how to capture excellent photographs with no need for any editing. In it, he shares over 100 different photographs from his various travels, all of which are presented as JPEGs directly out of the camera -- be it straight JPEG-captures or RAWs converted in-camera -- with no additional editing or retouching done on an external device. With each image, he shares not only a bit of background about the shot and the location, but also the EXIF data for each frame as well as notes and tips on exposure, composition and camera settings. These "recipes" can then be applied to your own photos as you head out and experiment.

- Gordon Laing

Now, the idea behind sticking with an in-camera JPEG, especially with more advanced RAW-capable cameras, might seem strange and perhaps somewhat controversial. Given the benefits of RAW files, such as increased detail potential, better flexibility to adjust exposure and more control over noise reduction, why instead would you want to shoot photographs as just JPEGs?

For starters, there's an enjoyment in the simplicity of it all; you're out with a camera and nothing else (and no sense of "I'll just fix it in post"). It's pure photography. At the same time, there's a challenge to this approach as well. Without any editing, you therefore must focus more carefully on getting your exposure right and nailing your composition. In a way, to me, if feels much more like how you approach film photography, since once you snap that shutter button, the image is recorded. And that's it. Now, don't get me wrong, there are many ways to retouch and edit film photos, but compared to a digital file, a film shot feels much more "permanent." By forcing yourself to capture your images without any external post-processing, you can really refine important photographic techniques and wind up a better photographer in the end, whether you decide to shoot RAW or JPEG.

For me, I'm quite excited by this approach to photography. I'm someone who always captures in RAW with the expectation to then off-load these images into Lightroom for detailed editing. I admit that I sometimes have that "I'll fix it later" mindset, given all the flexibility that RAW and Photoshop offer. Having this restriction therefore forces me to more carefully composite, analyze and consider my shots, which seems very worthwhile if I want to advance my skills and the quality of my photography.

- Gordon Laing

I do appreciate being able to "massage" a RAW file to bring out detail, adjust white balance, fine-tune noise reduction and sharpening more precisely, but this process can get tedious. I've already found myself unable to sit and edit a single RAW file for hours on end. And the simplicity of only using the digital camera itself as the post-processing tool, in a sense, with the multitudes of presets, film simulations and like, seems rather freeing.

For someone less experienced in digital photography or someone who might be intimidated by the mind-boggling array of options and adjustments offered by photo-editing software, Gordon's "in-camera" approach is a great way to explore the fundamentals of photography and really build up the core skills and techniques of photography. In other words, here's a great way to learn digital photography, without getting bogged down with the complexities of a post-processing workflow.

On the other hand, this in-camera approach is perhaps not for everyone. Those experienced photographers already well versed in technique might not want or need this book. Also, as I mentioned, the ability to capture images in RAW is very powerful. The raw information gives you the ability to dramatically change the look and feel of a photograph, to an extent that is often simply not be possible with in-camera JPEG processing. If that's what you're going for, then maybe this isn't for you. Even Gordon admits in the book that certain styles of photography require post-processing, and some photographers do enjoy the RAW editing process. Gordon's aim with this book, however, is to explore just how capable the modern digital camera is when combined with simple technique and some creativity, and to that end, it excels!

- Gordon Laing

As for the book itself, it's a nice, high-quality, compact hardback book. The design and print quality both look great. Plus, its accessible size makes it easy to pick up and browse through; it's certainly not a massively heavy tome that takes up half your coffee table.

So, who's ready to re-discover the power of their camera? Ready to see if you don't need to shoot in RAW to be a real photographer? Give Gordon's book a read and then grab your gear and experiment!

In Camera: Perfect Pictures Straight out of the Camera was released in the US on April 4, 2017 and is available for $24.99. For more information, please check out Gordon Laing's site.